Oswego Councilors Debate Merits Of OFD Grant

OSWEGO, NY – At it’s meeting Monday night, the Administrative Services Committee approved sending a request from the fire department to the full council – some time.

Joe Perry, fire chief, requested permission to accept monies that will be awarded by FEMA for the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) Grant.

The grant would allow the department to hire 12 additional firefighters, which could lower the overtime in the department. And it could increase the department’s insurance ratings, which would mean a savings in fire insurance costs for city business and to a lesser extent residents, too.

However, the city would face a big cost in the final year of the three-year deal if the council decides to accept it.

The city has to tell FEMA whether they will accept the grant. Or, it could possibly be awarded to one of the thousands of other cities that have applied.

The committee decided Monday night to send the matter to the full council. However, it might not be the very next council meeting.

There are still questions the councilors want answered.

Chief Perry will contact FEMA and tell them that the city held a workshop on the grant Monday night and has sent it to the council for further discussion.

If FEMA tells the city it has to make a decision right away, councilors can vote on it at their April 12 meeting. If FEMA has a more flexible deadline, the city can wait until the April 26 meeting.

The department’s grant writer, Lt. Jon Chwago, explained the grant’s details to the councilors prior to Monday night’s meeting.

There have been 9,600 applications for the grant funds, he said.

“It appears we are going to be accepted, if the council agrees,” he said.

The department received the pre-award questionnaire in March.

“It basically says if you’re willing to go along with it, FEMA is willing to fund it,” Chwago said. “There is about a 99 percent chance if you folks are agreeable that we’ll be awarded the grant.”

There is $1.33 million available.

The department currently operates with 12 firefighters working at any given time. For a city this size, it is recommended that there be 15 firefighters, Chwago noted.

The first year of the grant would be a freebie, he said. The second year, the city would have to come up with $18,533. However, in year three, the city share would be $729,071.

Under the grant, the city would be required to keep the new firefighters for the three years of the grant, and maintain staffing size.

Other costs would be sending 12 new firefighters to the academy (approximately $3,500 per person) and equipment for each new firefighter (about $1,800 per firefighter).

The associated costs prompted Councilor Bill Sharkey to wonder where all the money would come from. The city is already strapped for cash, he pointed out.

The fire department’s annual overtime budget is around $200,000.

With the addition of the new firefighters, that amount would be significantly reduced and would help offset the $729,071 in year three, the lieutenant said.

“Just to come in tonight and look at that $729 (thousand) and $18 (thousand) for the local share and know that we got to go out and vote on it in another hour or so, and even if we do lay off those 12 people, that money will have already been spent,” Councilor Dan Donovan said. “It makes you wonder where the heck the money is going to come from.”

The councilor agreed that the pros of the grant did merit more discussion and asked the fore department officials to provide them with more information.

“Obviously, we’re not looking for a miracle here,” the chief said. “We’re just bringing you the details of the proposal. It’s up to you to decide.”